My husband’s undergraduate degree is from Rutgers, and I was thumbing through his alumni rag when I cam across an article on James Cusumano, a chemistry major who – if I read the article (long since in recycle) correctly - had something to do with the 1950’s hit song “Who Wears Short Shorts?” before he went on to a successful career as a chemist.
But, in fact, when I started to fact check, it was no longer clear what exactly (if anything) Cusumano had to do with WWSS. He does not appear to have been a member of the Royal Teens, who sang WWSS, even though Cusumano was the right age and, like the members of the Royal Teens, a Jersey Boy, to boot. Anyway, as it turns out, although they were both chemistry majors of roughly the same era at Rutgers, Jim didn’t know James.
But, of course, I digress.
The real point behind bringing up “Who Wears Short Shorts?” and the Royal Teens is that the Royal Teens were One-Hit Wonders.
But I will digress once again to offer you this splendid You Tube of the Royal Teens appearance on American Bandstand.
And to note the following: the short-shorts and blouse on the girl in the video, when compared to the sluttish teen outfits so often observed these days, are nearly as modest as garb one might find on the followers of Mother Teresa. As for the lyrics, for sheer simplicity and brilliance, I would say they have it all over, say, Lady Gaga, et al. Nifty dance steps, too. Who needs elaborate choreography to get the point across?
Which leads me to a fun article I saw the other day in The Wall Street Journal online about a few folks who’d struck gold in recent years, bringing to market tremendously successful products, whose success they were never quite able to replicate.
Not that they had to. All of them did quite well, thank you, with products that sold a boat-load and entered the collective imagination.
Seldom the faddist, I was surprised that I had personally contributed to the coffers of two of the four entrepreneurs profiled in the article, which certainly makes me proud to be a consumer and an American.
Not that good poetry isn’t always magnetic, but Dave Kapell is a musician who invented Magnetic Poetry.
Not only do I have my own set around somewhere, I’m pretty sure that I gave a few as gifts over the years. Buying my own Magnetic Poetry kit also led to a companion purchase. As I had no desire to wax poetic on my fridge, I went out and bought a metal stand – the kind that you use to prop up documents that you’re keying into the computer via touch type, which, in this digital age, doesn’t seem to be called for all that often anymore. I used my Magnetic Poetry kit at work, and I’m sure I have it around somewhere. Or not. I didn’t come across it in my recent office purge, which produced two colossal recycle bags, as well as a bulging bag o’ non-recyclable trash. But there is the one Fibber McGee cabinet in there that I haven’t yet touched.,,
Once he had his Eureka moment and decided to cash in on it, Kapell was able to get Borders and Barnes and Noble to carry his wares. Which is no doubt where I bought my kit as some point in the 1990’s.
While the concept was a one-hit wonder, Kapell – despite the slipping fortunes of the big-box-bookstores (see Monday’s post) – has kept the idea going with variations on a theme.
A zombie-themed kit is popular, he says, and erotic-word versions are perennial favorites.
Ah, perhaps if Congressman Weiner had access to the erotic-word version of Magnetic Poetry, rather than a Twitter account, the world would be a saner place.
A recent golf-lovers' kit, on the other hand, was a dud.
Perhaps if the erotic- and golf-kits had been combined in a Tiger Woods’ special, he’d have had something.
Kapell didn’t say how much he’s made with Magnetic Poetry over the years, but did acknowledge that it’s enabled him to follow his true love as a not-so-struggling musician. And indulge in this ukulele habit.
His house is decked out with a grand piano and a 70-piece ukulele collection.
Ah, perhaps if Congressman Weiner had had a ukulele to strum on…
Robert Croak was responsible for bringing Silly Bandz – the second product on the one-hit-wonder list that I’d purchased – to market in the States.
Silly Bandz are those colored elastic wristies in the shapes of animals, TXT-isms (OMG, LOL), and other things that were the kid rage a while back. I bought a few packs of them for my nieces when they (Silly Bandz, not the nieces) were at their popularity peak in the U.S. Today, the rising demand is elsewhere, but Croak has some other ideas up (and on) his sleeve:
The Slap Watch, which has an oversized, brightly colored silicone wristband; Rad Bandz, thick rubber bracelets imprinted with stylized words such as "Drama" and "Epic Fail"; and RadRingz, a colorful, two-finger ring—Mr. Croak calls it "half a brass knuckle"—with removable faceplates.
Croak was also a bit shy about revealing just how much he’s made off of Silly Bandz,
…except to say that the profits are in the "millions per year," and he's probably set for life.
Baby on Board
Until I read the article, I had not been aware that the man responsible for those Baby on Board signs that were once so ubiquitous is from Boston.
Michael Lerner was not the inventor of those signs, but, having just experienced a peril-filled drive on Boston’s Storrow Drive with his 18-month old nephew on board, he knew a good idea when he saw one a few weeks later. That was in 1984, and by nine months into the business, his company, Safety 1st, was selling half a million of these signs per month. (A chicken in every pot, a car - or two or three - in every garage, and a Baby on Board sign on every car window.)
By 1985, the first knockoffs started appearing, but Mr. Lerner had developed strong relationships with his retailers and was able to protect his shelf space. Sales really didn't start to dip until the parodies came, like "Mother-in-law in Trunk" and "Baby, I'm bored."
Safety 1st branched out into other child-safety products, like well-packaged electrical outlet covers, so I wouldn’t exactly call Lerner a one-hit wonder. His company’s sales grew from $7.7M a year in 1989 to $158M in 1999. He sold the company in 2000, and pocketed a cool $38 million, so he has some cash on board.
He’s now trying for another hit, this time with some sort of therapeutic band, which is sold through a start-up, True Power>.
The company, which has testimonials from several New England Patriots, claims the bands use negative ions to speed oxygen delivery in the blood, which in turn hastens recovery from injury and fatigue.
Put me down as a skeptic, but what do I know?
I never had a hit, let alone one that made me $38M.
The final product noted was the Bumpit, some type of push-up plastic head band that lets women create Snooki-esque big hair dos without having to visit a hair salon.
Kelly Fitzpatrick-Bennett is the inventor, and styles herself as the “chief executive optimist” of her company, which is called Big Happie Hair. Chief executive optimist? No wonder I’m not rich…
Bumpits are licensed for mass distribution by the same outfit that has made the Snuggie a household word. Although at its peak, Fitzpatrick-Bennett sold a million Bumpits a month, she’s now planning for more modest sales of 20,000 per.
"I was pretty realistic in knowing it would only have a year of good life and then it would just sit and stop," Ms. Fitzpatrick-Bennett says.
Which makes Ms. Fitzpatrick-Bennett sound like one quite practical chief executive optimist.